Sunday, February 12, 2017

1918-1989: Elaine de Kooning, American

Elaine de Kooning, 1960

Elaine de Kooning was both a gifted figurative painter and a committed Abstract Expressionist. She started her career in the 1950s and continued to paint through the 1980s. She is best known for her portraits, especially a series of drawings and paintings depicting John F. Kennedy.

In addition, she was an important figure in the art world because of her work as a critic and educator; and she was also known as the wife of one of stars of Abstract Expressionism, Willem de Kooning.


Elaine Fried was born in Brooklyn, New York, the eldest of 4 children. Her father was protestant of Jewish descent who was the plant manager for a bread company. Her mother was an Irish Catholic was was accused of neglecting her children.


Despite her unconventional approach to child rearing, Elaine's mother started taking her to museums at the age of 5, as well as teaching her to draw.

Elaine didn't have a lot of formal training in art. She studied art for a couple of years in two different art schools.

When she was 20, in 1938, she began having private drawing lessons with Willem de Kooning, a Dutch painter, age 34, who had lived in New York since 1926. She later credited his training as the foundation of her work.

Private life: 

Apparently it was love at first sight for Elaine and Willem, according to later reports by their friends. For several years they painted and socialized together in Manhattan, and they got married in 1943.

Despite their attachment, Elaine and Willem had an open marriage; they both were casual about sex and about each other’s affairs. Elaine had affairs with men who could help further Willem’s career, and Willem fathered a child with another woman. Both of them were also heavy drinkers, and this sometimes caused problems in their lives.

In 1957 their affairs and alcoholism drove Elaine and Willem to part. They reconciled in 1976, after Elaine had sobered up, and she got him off the booze as well.

She died of lung cancer at the age of 68. Willem, though stricken with dementia, continued to paint and outlived her another eight years.


All through her painting career, Elaine alternated between representational images—rendered in a highly abstract manner—and pure abstractions, with only a hint of subject matter, if any.

Here's an example of the way she painted in the first phase of her career, in the 1940s.

Self-portrait, 1946

She began to show Abstract Expressionist paintings in the 1950s. One of her subjects was a series of studies of bulls. The energy of the subject seems suitable to the use of vigorous gestural brushwork in which each stroke has its own separateness.

Charging Bull No. 7, 1959

Here's an example in which the subject is even more obscure.

Juarez, 1958

Juarez, 1958
Santa Fe
Photo by Dan L. Smith
The idea of applying this loose, formless style to portraiture—which is normally associated with literal accuracy of portrayal—was totally contradictory, and rather abhorrent to the men in the Abstract Expressionist group. By figuring out how to relate expressive abstraction to portraiture, Elaine invented something new and unique.

Her early portraits depicted her friends. Here's a portrait of painter Fairfield Porter. Notice that she left the face vague while using her bold brushwork to capture the subject's posture and attitude exactly. Elaine realized early on that we recognize people by other signs before we even see their faces, and that while their faces might hide their personalities, their body positions given them away.
Fairfield Porter #1, 1954
Here's a portrait of a friend who was a poet, Frank O'Hara. Elaine first painted his face, then painted it out, perhaps because the features were too detailed to fit with the broad, slashing brushstrokes; perhaps because it was the moment of recognition before the face comes into focus that most interested her. She has an uncanny ability to capture the gesture, pose, and spirit of her subjects.

Frank O'Hara, 1962
National Portrait Gallery / Internet

Here's a more detailed portrait of the art critic who strongly championed Willem de Kooning's version of Abstract Expressionism, Harold Rosenberg:

Harold Rosenberg, 1962

In 1962, Elaine received a career-making commission from the Truman Library to paint President John F. Kennedy. She and her assistant were granted a two-week residency at the "Winter White House" in West Palm Beach. She was fascinated by the President and sketched and painted him in countless poses as he studied documents or conferred with aides.

Elaine in her studio, 1963

Elaine reached her final synthesis in September of 1963; Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22 of that year.  Elaine's portrait expresses youth, movement, and intensity. The President is sitting in a tense, temporary position, ready to bolt into action. He looks as though he might be listening to you speak at that moment.

The final version is 10 feet tall, because Elaine saw Kennedy as larger than life, both in his personality and in his importance as a world leader.

John F. Kennedy, 1963
National Portrait Gallery
Photo by Dan L. Smith

In that same year, Elaine completed a multi-figure image which seems like her best work to me. It depicts nine inmates of a special public school for narcotics offenders. Elaine had gone there to give art lessons to recovering addicts. The men appear self-aware and mature; their wary gazes reflect their institutionalization. Their individual personalities are indicated by poses and gestures; they may be candid, savvy, suspicious, bored or skeptical. The canvas is about 7 feet tall and fourteen feet wide; the monumental size accords these men a level of respect they seldom received in real life, thus making it a subtle, but moving political statement.

The Burghers of Amsterdam Avenue, 1963
Private collection / Internet

In the 1970s, Elaine continued to focus on portraiture, developing her abstract style. The painting below is sometimes considered her greatest masterpiece. It depicts Robert de Niro Sr., father of the actor, who was also an artist.

Robert de Niro Sr., 1973

Donald Barthelme
National Portrait Gallery / Internet
Later, Elaine did some portraits in a more popular style with more detailed attention to facial features. From the art critic's point of view, these works were less exciting, but they more accessible and more effective as illustration.

Pele #3, 1982
In the 1980s, when she was in her 60s, Elaine had a chance to travel in France. She painted a series inspired by the Bacchus fountain in the Luxembourg Garden in Paris that represent a return to a very high level of abstraction, with only the hint of subject matter.

Bacchus #3, 1978
Photo by Dan L. Smith

Bacchus #69 (Purple and Green), 1982

Later, she did a series on the cave-paintings of Lascaux that are remarkably evocative.

Torchlight Cave Drawing, 1985

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

1741-1807: Angelica Kauffman, Swiss-Austrian

Self-portrait, 1770-1775
National Portrait Gallery, London
Angelica Kauffman was a Swiss-born Austrian Neoclassical painter who made her career in London and Rome. Beautiful, refined, and multi-lingual, Angelica was a citizen of the world.

Background: Angelica was born in Switzerland to an Austrian family, and mostly raised in Austria. She was the only child of J. J. Kauffman, a skillful muralist, but not highly successful. Her mother died in 1757 when Angelica was 16.

Training: Angelica was a child prodigy who showed talent in both music and art. Her mother taught her several languages as well.

She was trained in art by her father, Joseph Johann Kauffmann. Her father paved the way for her career.

Career: After Angelica's mother died, Joseph took Angelica with him to Italy in search of work. She assisted him by painting in the backgrounds of his works, but she also received her own commissions. Her training was enhanced by meeting distinguished Neoclassical artists on her travels; she also had the opportunity to see and copy many masterpieces.

During her 3-year stay in Italy, Angelica made her reputation as a painter of portraits. She also excelled at history paintings, which were considered the most prestigious artistic category, and she was elected to Rome's art academy.

At the age of 24, Angelica went to London, as the invitation of the wife of the British ambassador to Florence. She soon made friends with Joshua Reynolds, a major portrait artist in the English art world, who helped to promote her career. Angelica's father joined her in England, and she quickly became a fashionable portrait artist.

In 1768, when she was 27, Angelica became a founding member of the Royal Academy of Art, one of two women in the group. This was not a perfunctory honor. Angelica was familiar with the art scene on the continent and brought the group both knowledge and prestige. She exhibited regularly at the Academy for the next 16 years.

In 1781, when Angelica was 40, she moved to Rome, where she continued her success as a portrait artist and international celebrity. She continued to contribute to the Royal Academy shows until 1797.


Papirius Pratextatus Entreated by His Mother, 1760s
Denver / Jan's photo, 2010
Portrait of John Simpson, 1777

Cordelia Crying Out for Help, 1783
San Diego, Jan's Photo

This is group composition is in the typical Neoclassical style.

Cornelia Africana, 1785

Portrait of Countess A S Protasova with Her Nieces, 1788

Self-portrait, 1797

Private life:

In London in 1767, Angelica married a man named Frederick de Horn. He claimed to be the illegitimate son of a count. The couple lived apart and it is speculated that the marriage was unconsummated because he was impotent. When Angelica tried to get out of the marriage, she found out he was already married and a long-term scam artist. It was necessary for her and her father to pay him off to get ride of him. The marriage was dissolved in 1768.

After her first husband died in 1781, Angelica married a Venetian artist named Antonio Zucchi. Angelica and Antonio settled in Rome, where she continued her career.

She died in 1807 and was honored by a well-attended funeral.

Friday, December 23, 2016

1911-2013: Ángeles Santos Torroella, Spanish

Self-portrait, 1928, age 17
Ángeles Santos was a Spanish painter whose work created a great sensation when she was 18 years old, but after a couple of intensely creative years, her work fell off in both quantity and quality, so that her full talent was unrealized.

Some Spanish sources refer to her as Ángeles Santos, but other sources add a surname: Ángeles Santos Torroella.

Background: Ángeles was born into a family of painters and writers in a small Spanish town near the French border, the eldest of 8 children. Her father was a customs official and the family moved around a lot.

Training: In 1924, when she was 13, Ángeles was sent to a convent boarding school in Seville. When the family settled in Vallodolid in 1927, she had daily painting classes before school.

Career: Ángeles exhibited for the first time at the age of 16 in 1929. After 2 years of showing her student works in her home town, she sent a painting to the prestigious Salon in Madrid and it was accepted. Called Un Mundo, it was a large, surrealistic vision, comparable to the works of Salvador Dalí. It created a sensation in the art world in Spain, especially when it was learned that the painting was created by an 18-year-old in a provincial town.

In the very same year, Ángeles painted another masterpiece, called La Tertulia, or The Discussion Group, in a style that was comparable to the German movement called New Objectivity.

Ángeles had a period of furious activity from 1928 to 1930, age 17 through 19, in which she painted several striking paintings in various Spanish and European styles. Her work is of such high quality that it is hard to believe she had not seen works in these various styles, at least in photographs.

In 1931 Ángeles stopped painting. She had a nervous breakdown; she destroyed paintings, ran away from home, and spent six weeks in a sanatorium. During the 1930s, she painted very little, although her work was exhibited in various shows.

In the 1940s, Ángeles resumed painting, but her style changed to a bland sort of Impressionism. Some of these works are very attractive, but they have none of the ambition or passion of her teenage works.

In the 1950s, Ángeles abandoned her artistic production.

In the 1970s, Ángeles starting getting more attention and recognition, and her work was in major shows every decade for the rest of her life.

I photographed her two best paintings at the Reina Sofia; they are on my website: Painting 2.

Private life: In 1933, when she was 22, Ángeles settled in Barcelona. In 1936 she married a painter named Emili Grau. The civil war erupted the same year, and the couple escaped to France. The following year, Ángeles returned alone, to live with her parents in a village in the Pyrenees, when she gave birth to her only child.

In 1962—after a separation of 26 years— Ángeles reunited with her husband and lived with him between Madrid and a smaller seaside town.

Ángeles' husband died in 1975. Ángeles spent her final years with her son in Madrid. She lived to be 102 years old.

My photos of Ángeles's work:

A World, 1929
Reina Sofia / Jan's photo, 2015

The Gathering, 1929
Reina Sofia / Jan's photo, 2015

Internet Examples:

Uncle Simon, 1928

La Marquesa de Alquibla, 1928

Calle Alonso Pesquera, 1929

Nita and the Dolls, 1929

The Dead Girl, 1930

This example is like the German movement New Objectivity.

Family Dinner, 1930
Later in life, Ángeles worked in an Impressionistic style that is considered bland and uninteresting. The only examples I could find were paintings for sale by galleries, and they were undated.

View of City with Flowers, date unknown

Luxembourg Gardens, date unknown

Paisaje, date unknown

Los Arcos (Sitges), date unknown

1891-1955: Charley Toorop, Dutch

Self-portrait, 1928
Charley Toorop was a Dutch painter who was active in the first half of the 20th century. Her style was generally realistic, with heavily accentuated lines and strong color contrasts. She did not divert her energies to a variety of art forms, but concentrated forcefully on painting.

Background: Originally called Annie Caroline, Charley was the daughter of Jan Toorop, one of the foremost artists in the Netherlands during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Training: Rather than attending art school, Charley learned art skills from her father.

Career: Charley rejected such advanced, experimental styles as the geometric abstractions of Mondrian, because they had no bearing on reality. She felt that art should serve human values.

At the beginning her career, she allied herself with a group of artists who aimed at depicting the essence of reality, and favored the use of strong colors and heavily lines. Her work first appeared in a show with that group in 1916.

Charley developed a style of confrontational realism, presenting her subjects head on. This applies not only to her remarkable self-portraits in which she penetrates the viewer with her steely gaze, but also to her portraits of farmers, labourers and fishermen.

From 1926-1928 she lived in Amsterdam, where her painting became influenced by film. Her faces appear to be lit by individual spotlights creating strong contrasts between highlights and shadows.

From the 1930s onwards, she painted in a powerful realistic style—notably self-portraits and many female figures. She also did still lifes that were influenced by synthetic cubism.

Toorop's work is widely collected by Dutch museums.

Self-portrait with Three Children, 1929
Private life: In 1912, Charley married philosopher Henk Fernhout. They had 2 sons and a daughter. They divorced in 1917.

Charley remained single the rest of her life, though she is rumored to have had a brief relationship with a Dutch poet.

After much moving about, in 1932, Charley settled in a town in North Holland, where she lived in a house of her own design.

There is a very nice selection of Charley's work on Artnet: Charley Toorop

The Kroller Muller Museum has a huge collection online: Toorop Two

Our photos of Charley's work:

Self-portrait in front of a palette, 1934
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2015

Fruit and Autumn Leaves, 1952
Gementemuseum / Jan's photo, 2015

Internet Examples:

Farmers, 1930

Clown in the Ruins of Rotterdam, 1941

Photo of Charley in 1951

Self-portrait, 1953

Roses in a Glass, 1953

Still Life with White Pitcher, 1954

1889-1943: Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Swiss

Max Ernst, Gala, Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Paul Eluard, 1928
Sophie Taeuber-Arp was a multi-talented Swiss artist who worked in the first half of the 20th century. She was innovative and productive as a painter, sculptor, textile designer, interior designer, and architect, and she even did a little dancing. She was a key figure in the important art movements in Europe.

Background: Sophie Taeuber's mother, who was also called Sophie, was a powerful and capable figure. Sophie was the last of 5 children, and her father, a pharmacist, died when she was 2. This left Sophie, the mother, a single-parent with 5 children to support. She solved this problem by opening a boarding house.

Training: An amateur painter herself, Sophie's mother recognized her youngest child's talent, and sent her to private school for art and design when she was 15, in 1904. This is where she began to study textiles. She later attended art academies in Munich and Hamburg, in Germany. She also attended a School of Dance in Zurich.

Career: Sophie began her career by getting a steady job: From 1916 to 1929—13 years—she taught weaving and other textile arts at the Zürich University of the Arts. 

Even though she was Swiss, her early style in textiles and graphics, was influenced by the Russian Kasimir Malevich, founder of Constructivism. These sophisticated geometric abstractions reflect a subtle understanding of the interplay between color and form.

At the same time she was also working on projects with the sculptor, Jean Arp, who had come to Zurich in 1915 to escape the First World War.

During World War I, Zurich, Switzerland, became an important center for the Dada art movement. As a capital in a neutral country, it became a gathering place for advanced artists seeking refuge from the disastrous and disheartening war.

"Dada" is a deliberately nonsensical word to describe a movement that sought to upend the tenets of European culture, which the war had turned into nonsense. Both Sophie and Jean were central to the movement in Zurich. Sophie took part in Dada-inspired shows at the Cabaret Voltaire as a designer, dancer, choreographer, and puppeteer. In 1918, she co-signed the Zürich Dada Manifesto.

Some Dada art is angry about the pretensions of high culture or of politics, and seeks to expose and destroy them. Sophie and Jean Arp created joyous abstractions that create a kind of visual jazz. In a world being torn apart by war, her colorful abstract art was a blissful alternative reality.

Sophie Taeuber-Arp in 1927
In 1926 Sophie and moved to Strasbourg, a nearby town in France, with Jean Arp. From this time she began to specialize in interior design and received several commissions.

In 1928 Sophie and Jean moved to a suburb of Paris, where she designed their new house and some of its furnishings.

Sophie was at a high point of her career in terms of organizing, writing about, and exhibiting her abstract, multi-disciplinary art. During the 1930s she was active in advanced art groups and socialized with all the key artists in Paris. 

Sophie was not well known outside of Switzerland until the recent period of rediscovering women artists. One reason is the fact that she expressed her creativity in so many different forms, and many of these forms, like weaving, have not received much respect in the art world traditionally.

Personal life: It appears that Sophie had one stable romantic relationship throughout her life. In 1915, when she was 26, she met Jean Arp, a German-French artist who is best known for his sculpture, though he too worked in many media. Arp was born in France to a French mother and German father. When he spoke French, he called himself Jean. When he spoke German, he called himself Hans. After collaborating on artistic projects for several years, Sophie and Hans married in 1922, and Sophie changed her last name to Taeuber-Arp.

Sophie and Jean, with puppets made by Sophie
Sophie and Jean were together while she was teaching in Zurich, and in 1926, they moved together to Jean's home town of Strasbourg, and became citizens of France. In the 1930s, they lived in the house she designed in a suburb of Paris.

When the Nazis invaded Paris in 1940, Sophie and Jean, returned to Zurich because of Jean's German connections.

Sophie died in 1943, at the age of 54, from  accidental carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a faulty stove in the home of a friend.

Jean Arp lived on until 1966, which gave him two more decades to develop his art and his reputation. Partly because of this Jean Arp is a very famous artist, while Sophie is barely mentioned in his biography. Lately, however, the art world is coming to see that to apply the principles of Dada to the practical arts was an act of genius.

My photos of Sophie's art:

Dada Tapestry, Composition with triangles, rectangles and parts of rings, 1916
Pompidou / Jan's photo, 2015

Composition dada (Tête au plat), 1920
Pompidou / Jan's photo, 2015

Composition of circles  with arms and rectangles, 1930
Pompidou / Jan's photo, 2015

Internet Examples

Elementary Forms in a Vertical-Horizontal Composition, 1917 (goache)

Elementary Forms, 1917

Untitled (Composition with Squares, Circle, rectangles, Triangles), 1918

 Composition in Dense, Polychrome, Quadrangular Spots, 1921

Composition Of Circles And Overlapping Angles, 1930

Untitled, 1932

Composition, 1937